Are the older men or younger men correct in "Shooting an Elephant"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your question refers to the final paragraph, which comes after Orwell has shot the elephant, and which tells us the way that the other colonial officers greeted the news of what happened. Let us just remind ourselves of what the text says at this point in the novel:

Among the Europeans, opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterward I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant.

If we look at this quote carefully, we can infer that the division of opinions is related to the age of the colonial staff that give their opinion. It is perhaps the older men who are more able to grasp the bigger issue that is at stake with their experience. They perhaps know, even better than Orwell does, the way that it is important to maintain the illusion of power and provide a spectacle for the "natives," even though, as Orwell eloquently establishes, that power is actually ironically based on a kind of slavery. The younger men think only of profit and economic motives, which places the life of an elephant as being worth more than a "coolie." Clearly, their opinion is related to their lack of experience and knowledge concerning colonialism and the narrow, profit-based motive that is at the heart of so much colonial enterprise.

Personally, I think the older men are right, as their opinion shows their experience and their appreciation of the kind of situation a white man finds himself in when he takes power over others. The younger men's view shows their lack of experience and their narrow, restricted view of the situation.

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Shooting an Elephant

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